If you know me, then you’re probably aware that I have Complex-Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD,) General Anxiety Disorder (GAD,) and Major Depressive Disorder (MDD.) You don’t have to have the diagnosis to suffer with any one of the mental health issues above to let things like a vacation with family stress you out. Over the past decade I have been able to develop a routine and process to help release myself from the feelings of anxiety. I wanted to share them with you so you have access to them and would love for you to share them with anyone you think may benefit from them.
Below are some things I implement to help keep me ‘grounded’ and feeling safe when going on vacation.
1. Research the location
I like to pull up the location and see where the closest grocery store is as well as what amenities are included in the resort. This allows me to customize our packing for this trip and ensure we don’t have any issues like mommy not having a coffeemaker in our room.
2. Check the dates and weather
This may seem silly, but it’s actually hugely beneficial. I start checking the weather about 10 days out. I know it is subject to change, but it’s usually relatively close and allows me to determine if I need more than one ‘season’ of clothes (i.e. think of Orlando Florida, they had record cold days and record high days within 10 days of one another.) I’m able to cut out a large chunk of packing if I know that I’ve only got one ‘season’ to pack for. I also can plan ahead with rain jackets or snow shoes if needed!
3. Make a list of items to pack
This seems like a no-brainer, but honestly, it truly helps. I actually start my list about a week ahead of time and as we go through the daily routines I add onto it. Having a large family, I make sure each person has their own column to identify multiples of certain items. By doing this, I’m able to ensure we’ve got everyone’s chargers, no one’s medication is being left behind and Jameson doesn’t have to go without socks! This also allows me to add on items that I may have otherwise forgotten or not known I needed. For example, the nearest grocery store to one of our future trips is about 30 min away from the resort. No biggie, because I’m 9 days out and have already figured this out so I know I should try and get groceries ahead of time so I can have them packed and ready to go.
** Bonus Tip #1: I have 4 kids ages 11, 10, 8 and almost 7 (in 2 weeks.) I am able to tell the kids exactly what they need to bring me for the suitcases by going down my list to ensure we have all the items necessary per person. It’s easy to forget someone’s socks or a shampoo bottle when you thought someone else packed it. The kids love helping as well!
** Bonus Tip #2: We have a larger family so your standard coffee pot and your standard toaster oven does get the job done, but it means for multiple uses. I bring our own toaster that can do 4 slices at once as well as our own coffeemaker because I’m spoiled and like how big it is as well as the fact it does fresh grinding.
4. Stage your suitcase(s) in a convenient place that’s readily available.
I have a large enough master bedroom that I’m able to have 1-2 large suitcases open and not be in the way for my middle of the night bathroom break. As I’m making my list, I go through and start filling up my suitcases with items as I go and marking them off the list. Obviously you can’t pack your toothbrushes 9 days in advance, however, I can certainly pack the wrestling singlets that aren’t needed until we’re already on the trip. I love doing this because I fold our laundry in my master bedroom so instead of digging through the kids drawers and closets I’m able to pack it as I’ve washed it.
5. Go through any relatively ‘normal’ what if scenarios
Now having C-PTSD I can think of more what if scenarios then most, so be sure and use your best judgment. I do what I call ‘snorkeling’ on the what if scenarios when planning for vacation. I know that I have 4 kids so having children’s medications is largely beneficial. So if you look at my list, you will see children’s meds which usually consists of allergy meds, Tylenol, Motrin, bandaids, Sudafed, Mucinex, Pepto, vitamins, etc. Basically I don’t want our trip to turn into a fiasco when a kid spikes fever and the nearest grocery store is 30 minutes away! I also pack feminine hygiene products because again, you don’t want shark week to surprise you early this month and you be room bound until your significant other gets back from that store 30 minutes away! Follow this same process with the adults regarding medications and vitamins.
6. Plan out your meals
I don’t go as full-throttle on meal planning when we’re on a trip, however, I do have a decent idea of what I am expecting. I typically will get a bunch of fruit, granola bars, milk, oatmeal, cereal, eggs, yogurt, coffee, creamer, water, gatorade, sandwich stuff, SUJA immunity shots and more. This is my ‘staples’ because I know that we have SOMETHING to eat if we need to. (Hey, breakfast isn’t just for the mornings people — we can do it for lunch and/or dinner!) I also like to have some plastic bags (sandwich or snack size) to allow me to purchase items in bulk but divvy them out in smaller portions to the kids. This is a lifesaver for when we’re out and about at a location that allows us to bring our own food and drinks.
** BONUS TIP #3: Make sure you pack thermal totes to ensure you can keep stuff cool if you need to. I use Thirty-One thermal totes and usually will freeze the water or gatorade so it acts as an ice pack in the thermal tote when we’re out at a wrestling tournament or walking around, etc.
7. Know yourself and set realistic expectations
This is SO important. If you know something is a ‘trigger,’ difficult or a point of anxiety for you, don’t ignore it, prepare for it! I absolutely despise driving at night, let alone in a city I don’t live and God forbid their be rain, snow, mountains, etc. cause I’m virtually in full on panic mode at that point. Since I know this about myself, I always leave first thing in the morning and request the earliest check-in available. I am very well-aware that even once I arrive under my ‘ideal desires’ that there is still going to be a level of anxiety simply from packing, traveling with 4 kids in a car and going to a new city. I know to make sure I can ground myself ASAP upon arrival. I do this by bringing things (oils, weighted blanket, etc.) and executing coping skills (mindful meditation, sleep hypnosis, etc.) My family knows that I will help unpack and organize everything but then I need to truly take a few minutes to ground.
8. Determine the goal for your trip
I have different goals for trips and it helps me to have a clear expectation of the time we are away. For example, our next trip the goal is to relax and have my older two compete in a wrestling tournament. The place we are going does have lots of fun places around to explore and sight-see etc. We may very well do those things, however, I’m not adding that expectation to my list because we’ve been blessed enough to have done a Disney trip over Thanksgiving and have family visit over Christmas. What I mean by this is my kids have recently had ‘fun’ vacations which tend to be higher on the budget. This trip I want my kids to relax and not constantly have my head on a swivel. I am packing bathing suits as I’m sure they will spend most of their time in the pool and that’s perfectly fine with me cause we all need some time to relax.
9. Pack & Prep the night before
I feel like this is common sense, but knowing the reality of life I know it’s not. I like to load the car the night before with anything that we can. I also will get gas and have snacks/drinks ready for the drive. I basically want the morning of the drive to be as simple and smooth as possible. I will have plenty of traffic, “are we there yet?” and missed exits despite using GPS to increase my anxiety without adding packing the car to the list. We have 6 people in our family so we play a game of tetris and I always worry we won’t all fit with all of our stuff so this helps me sleep a little more soundly the night before.
10. Potty Break
I know this sounds silly but make sure EVERYONE tries to go potty before you leave. It’s usually the last thing I have everyone do. I then hold out on liquids until they’re genuinely thirsty versus just drinking cause they have one. I try to break the drives down into 2-3 hour spurts and when I stop for a bathroom break we all go in and try and then I also fill up with gas. This helps ease my anxiety on being in the middle of nowhere without any gas. I also set clear expectations like no drinks or snacks at this stop but the next stop you can. Our trip coming up is about 6 hours and we’ll be in the mountains in January. I’m already planning on having 3-4 stops just so I’m not putting too high of expectations on myself. Ideally I would like to be down to 1-2 stops but again it’s January and we’ll be in the mountains so I’m not sure how ideal my drive will be.
11. House wife it
I’m not going to be barefoot in a robe in the kitchen making a 7 course meal, however, I am also not going to set myself up for anxiety the day I get home after a long drive. I typically bring laundry detergent with me and have designated ‘bags’ or hampers for dirty clothes. I don’t mind doing laundry while I’m grounding and/or relaxing watching TV so I do my best to wash virtually everything while we’re there so I don’t come back to a copious amount of laundry needing to be done.
I also try and clean my house as much as possible before I leave. There’s nothing more relaxing then arriving home after a long drive and walking into a clean house! I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but I genuinely love that feeling and it calms me so much!
12. Don’t overwhelm yourself
Pending the location, the price will vary on how much it is to stay per night. I tend to go down the day before the event and/or come home the day after the event. I like to have a buffer day at the beginning and at the end of my trip to ensure I’m not pushing myself too hard in a high-anxiety situation. This will allow me to ground and recharge without missing any of the things we have planned. I also hate racing the sun home so I will repeat my process when I’m leaving that I’ve mentioned above.
I cannot stress this one enough. Communicate, at the very least, with your spouse and/or the adults in the group. I am VERY transparent with my kids and have become overwhelmingly more so due to my oldest daughter having PTSD and MDD. My kids know when I need to ‘ground’ that means I’m overly anxious and need some quiet and the dark. My husband knows that I may get overwhelmed due to crowds or lack of knowing where we are going. These are things I’ve learned myself and I’ve explained to them. Is it an excuse? Absolutely not! I still bust my ass to overcome these areas of opportunity but I communicate them with the my kids and husband because I’m not perfect and it’s a heck of a lot easier when they know what’s going on versus thinking my foul mood is their fault. I can’t tell you how many times my husband said “Just go off by yourself and walk around.” while we were at Disney. God bless that man, he knows me far too well and saved quite a few blow ups from happening by simply knowing me and knowing what I needed.
I hope these tips help you to capitalize on your trips with your family and give you some good ammunition to overcome any of those anxious feelings that may arise. You deserve to have the moments away to build memories with your family, so just make sure you’re setting yourself up for success. I am proud to say that I have learned these coping skills to help set me up for success to ensure I am not missing out on any memories for my kids and my mental diagnoses aren’t dictating our opportunities.